Pathfinder has succeeded through multiple iterations not just because of excellent mechanics but also because Paizo has created a diverse, vibrant fantasy setting for adventures to explore – what is now known as Lost Omens. After all, Pathfinder did not start as its own mechanical rule set, but as adventures, stitching together a world compelling enough to bear the weight of carrying on a variation of D&D 3E when D&D itself moved on. And Absalom is, as the saying goes, the City at the Center of the World. What better place for the spotlight?
Absalom: City of Lost Omens is an incredibly in-depth look at the centerpiece of the Inner Sea and, therefore, Golarion. Weighing in at 400 pages, City of Lost Omens isn’t the biggest city sourcebook ever (I believe that distinction belong to Ptolus: City by the Spire), but it’s one of them. The breadth of what’s covered is staggering – the city’s history (including many of the storied sieges), how the government is organized, laws and law enforcement, commerce, the noble houses and politics, traditions, and daily life. The city is divided into 11 different districts (plus the undercity, the walls and related structures, and the rest of the island), each of which gets its own write-up. Each of those districts gets a brief overview and write-ups on particular locations. And each page also has informative sidebars (enough that these sidebars have their own icons to help keep track of the topics) – general information, crime reports, adventures hooks, songs, and details that tie into existing Pathfinder products (there are, of course, a lot of adventure paths and PFS scenarios that intersect with Absalom, so there are lots of chances for cross-references). About the only thing you won’t find is details on the test of the Starstone.
In addition there are about 130 pages of NPCs populating the city, from mighty spellcasters and political figures to beggars in the street. I loved the scope and variety included. My main wish for what could have been in City of Lost Omens is more pictures here. I know that there are just far, far to many NPCs included to commission art for all of them, but a brief visual hook is so important for me when keeping track of and later presenting NPCs, and the vast majority of them get no illustration here.
But it’s not just that City of Lost Omens has a lot of material; it’s also well-organized. Every location has tags – it’s a restaurant, a temple, a neighborhood, a venue, a school, what have you. In total there are 24 of these and other labels let the book give cross-references that make City of Lost Omens much more usable during play. The PCs are trying to sell stolen merchandise (or looking for someone else who did)? Just check under “Fences” for the identity of four such establishments and what part of the city they’re in. You’ve got a job you’d like to give the PCs and want to know who in the city might offer that sort of thing? Well, there are 12 different employers available. There’s a similar reference for NPCs. There are four “fence” establishments in the city, but there are also ten NPCs who fall into that category. And it’s detailed – sure, there are ambassadors and pathfinders and merchants – but there are also kite enthusiasts and waitstaff and children. There are even cross-references between these two sections, as each location will identify NPCs who are likely to be there. City of Lost Omens might be the rare book that’s easier to use than to just read. The book is just so full of information that just reading it is like drinking from a fire hose, but it’s quite usable during actual game prep.
There’s a very little bit of mechanical content, including a bit of gear and a feat tucked away here or there. But the main mechanical bit is the azarketi (gillmen) ancestry. Overall, however, this just isn’t a mechanically-focused book.
In a lot of my reviews I like to have fairly detailed breakdowns of what you’re getting in a book. That isn’t really possible here – you’re getting everything about Absalom and you’re getting it all at once. And pretty much everything in Golarion is at least a little bit in Absalom. So let’s go straight to who I think this book is for. First, I think it’s great for any GM who wants to use Absalom in a homebrew campaign. There’s a wealth of information and it’s well-organized. Second there are your Pathfinder diehards. Oddly, there’s just so much in City of Lost Omens, all focused on this one place, that if you’re new to Pathfinder or Golarion, it’s probably not a great place to start. But those who are already invested in the setting and have the basics down are likely to adore all of the information presented in City of Lost Omens.
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